Left in the dark

Professors express their mental health struggles this year, and how they feel Hamline has not done enough to support them.

SJ Welch and Kathryn Robinson

As the season of COVID-19 persists, the lives of many Hamline professors continue to be strained under the stress of the pandemic. In a confidential questionnaire sent out to all Hamline professors, an anonymous professor stated, “Everyone I work with and care for is facing just incredible amounts of increased stressors — and I feel this every day in classes. I am even more worried for and about the students in our community. It resonates across campus, and throughout the community where I live, as well.” 

These increased stressors are taking a toll on the overall mental health of many professors. “There is an added stress to being online, to not being physically present with students,” said visiting lecturer of English and first-year writing Davu Seru.

Before the pandemic, many professors had a very different job as the majority of classes were in person. Now, as the pandemic has shifted things online, professors are learning a new way of work that many did not envision when choosing to work in the academic field. 

As many professors work in a hybrid setting, they are facing the unknowns of teaching in this new environment. 

“I think what’s difficult about this year is having to develop online materials and new, flexible approaches very quickly and for all of our classes at once,” said Dr. Alina Oxendine, a political science professor.

Oxendine, like many professors, is trying to learn a new way of teaching all from the confines of their living room table. 

Dr. Kim Koeoppen, an education professor, stated the pandemic has made it “hard for me to remember if I was at work or if I was at home.” This has become a challenge for her. “From a mental health perspective, it just gets exhausting,” Koeoppen said. 

Additionally, world events weigh heavily on professors’ minds, making it challenging to focus on their job. 

“I see students and colleagues throughout the university in varying degrees of concern about health, about their loved ones, about feeling isolated, about a pervasive leadership dysfunction, about feeling economically insecure and so on,” said an anonymous professor. 

There are obvious stressors related to working during a pandemic, such as health and safety, and while professors are concerned about this, it is not their only added stressors during this time. Balancing family life with work is a top priority for many. 

“The workload is substantially higher and the amount of down-time lower,” Oxendine said. “I have two kids under ten, so caring for them is more challenging as well.” 

While professors manage a workplace that may be inducing more anxiety, many are wondering what the university is doing to look out for them. 

Another professor said, “The pandemic has shown me that faculty (and staff) are seen as disposable and replaceable by upper administration. I always suspected as much, but that has been made very clear now.” 

As professors employed by the university, they may be entitled to health insurance with mental health services. However, only one professor who had filled out this questionnaire stated that they had received resources from Hamline during this time, and an overwhelming thirty-two professors said that they had not.

The results of these surveys – which included 33 responses –  and interviews indicate that the university has not completely acknowledged or met the needs of struggling professors.